Sunday, 6 April 2014

What does YOUR bookshelf say about you?

I've always liked Lortag the Elder - a gentle scholar living quietly in a corner of that open sewer of a city, Kharé, spending his time puzzling over ancient runes and trying to educate the lawless Orclings of the city in what is probably a futile attempt at widening participation. At least until I read Inkle Studios' engrossing version of the second Sorcery! adventure... But that's a different story for another day. In the original Kharé - Cityport of Traps, Lortag may invite you into his study for a chat and, as has happened to me far too many times in real life in similar situations, you might find that you aren't so much paying attention to what he's saying as to what books he has on his bookshelves. (In real life of course, this is not a good thing as you may suddenly realise you haven't been following the conversation and find that you are expected to reply to something you haven't really heard.) And what a collection of books Lortag has! They say you can tell a lot about someone from the books that they read, so what does Lortag's collection tell us about him?


This excellent illustration by the master of punk-fantasy art, John Blanche, is worth a closer look, especially if you are a Titan nerd like me who likes to find out as much about the world of Fighting Fantasy as possible. I don't know about you, but I really want to know what's on Lortag's shelves, so there's only two things we can do, short of interrogating John Blanche - either scan the image in at high quality them zoom in and see what the book titles are, or get a decent magnifying glass and have a closer look. I think you'll agree that squinting through a magnifying glass is much more fun than clicking buttons on a computer screen, so let's go for that for now. So what's Lortag been reading then?

Let's start on the top shelf. This is clearly where Lortag shoves all sorts of stuff that he hasn't sorted out or doesn't want visitors to see, so most of it is not spine-outwards and we can't work out what it is. But at the right-hand end of the shelf is a stack of books, some of which have readable titles on their spines. These are:
  • Axiome
  • Necropolitics
  • White Dwarf 1-30 (or 1-36)
Axiome brings to mind the word axiom, meaning 'premise', 'initial assumption' or 'principle', derived from Ancient Greek ἀξίωμα. Necropolitics obviously refers to the politics of death or, as Wictionary puts it, "The relationship between sovereignty and power over life and death". Definitely top shelf material! White Dwarf is of course the name of the gaming magazine published by Games Workshop. How Lortag has managed to get hold of a bound volume of the first 30 (or 36) issues is anyone's guess.

Let's move on to the rather untidy second shelf. The only legible spine here is near the left:
  • Tolkien
Ah hah! I always look to see if people have any Tolkien on their shelves when I visit their houses. It's generally a good sign, although a battered copy of just The Fellowship of the Ring bought in a second-hand bookshop on holiday one time doesn't qualify, whilst having the whole History of Middle-Earth in hardback proudly displayed in your living room is probably going too far, as is having ANY Tolkien on your office book shelves. Lortag seems to be playing it safe with what looks like a single hard-cover copy of one of Tolkien's books (probably the Silmarillion by its thickness).

On to the third shelf. Things are starting to get really interesting here, not surprisingly as this looks like a shelf that Lortag can easily reach. As well as a small telescope and various other bits of paraphernalia and untitled books, we have, from left to right:
  • possibly volume V of something with a sun symbol on the spine
  • volumes II and III of something with a fleur-de-lis symbol on the spine
  • Jackson
  • Jes
  • Balykoth
  • Malkuth
  • Voloder (?)
and two others at the right-hand end which have illegible or obscured titles. Jackson may be the Kakhabadian name for the Trickster God, revered by many in those chaotic lands. Jes and Voloder are obscure, but Balykoth and Malkuth are very interesting. Although I can't find a source for Balykoth (though it's the kind of word that looks like it has one in the real world), it is similar to Balkoth, the name of an arch-demon in the Lords of Magic PC game, and Balchoth, a term created by Tolkien for a race of eastern barbarians. Whatever its origin (do let me know if you have any ideas), it has a diabolical look to it. Malkuth (Hebrew מלכות, meaning 'kingdom') is named after one of the attributes of the Kabbalah tradition. All very esoteric!

On the fourth shelf, we have a strange collection of stuff:
  • Garibo[...] (?)
  • Khare
  • Dwarf Hymns
  • Syn 1
Hmm. Garibo[...], if that is what it is, is partially obscured by Lortag himself. Khare (there may be an acute accent floating to the top right of the e) is obviously about Lortag's home city. Dwarf Hymns hardly seems like fascinating reading, though Syn 1 looks more promising.

The remaining shelves are mostly obscured by Lortag, but on the fifth shelf we have:
  • Blanche Vol I
  • Unlife Vol III
  • Ions
  • Bezelgue (?)
  • Mogibell
Blanche Vol I appears to refer to an obscure (but obviously prolific) Kakhabadian artist from the mid 280s After Chaos. Unlife Vol III adds to our growing suspicion that there's a darker side to Lortag. Ions hints at a fascination with atomic physics, which is somewhat unexpected in a medieval fantasy world. Bezelgue (if that's what it is) and Mogibell are rather more obscure; the former looks like a French surname, the latter like it could be a book about cute cats to me.

Nothing can be made out on the sixth and seventh shelves, but on the eighth, unfortunately partially obscured not only by Lortag but also but his table, we have:
  • Slee[...]
  • D. McFa[...]
Not much to go on there. I initially thought D. McFa[...] might be MCFA (which looks like it might refer to Middlesex County Football Association), but that requires us to ignore the D. and the small size of the c.

So there we have it. Lortag might look and act like a mild-mannered old gentleman, but his library gives us an insight into what's going on behind his calm exterior. He's definitely into some weird, indeed disturbing, stuff, as we might expect from a scholar in the Verminpit of Kakhabad. He also has a penchant for role-playing and fantasy fiction, whilst in his quieter moments he enjoys singing Dwarf hymns and reading about cute kittens.

If you happen to have any other ideas about any of these weird and wonderful books titles, do let me know!


  1. Ahh, great stuff!

    Blanche Vol I -- could be a study of colors (starting with white);

    Bezelgue -- could be a name for the demon Belzebu. Like the name of the cultist of it;

    volumes II and III of something with a fleur-de-lis symbol on the spine -- surely books about the crest symbols of a noble house.

    White Dwarf 1-30 (or 1-36) --- I do envy him now.


    1. Is there a connection between Beelzebub and Bezelgue? That would be interesting!

  2. Is it possible to read that "D. McFa[...]" as something like "Donald McFarland" or a similar name (Donahue McFarlane)? As far as you know, has a name like that something related with John Blanche?

    1. Sounds possible, but I think we'd need John Blanche to explain, assuming he remembers!

  3. Replies
    1. Do tell more! I don't know anything about him or his possible connections with Blanche.

  4. I don't know anything apart from his games industry connection. Google him and you might find something I didn't.

  5. Voloder? Voloidon Carsak - who mapped the Cities of the Snake people?

    Jes? Jes Goodwin, Games workshop sculptor? Not sure about the dates, though.